How many times has the Zimbabwean government issued Statutory Instruments that are disconnected from reality? Too many times to count, right? Some of it comes from prioritising political objectives but some of it comes from not having a clue what’s actually on the ground.
The informal market refers to economic activities that occur outside formal government regulations and official monitoring. The parallel market is a subset of the informal market, referring to an unofficial or secondary market where goods or services are traded outside the formal channels established by the government or regulatory authorities.
There is a reason why the parallel market is also called the black or grey market, it’s a black box that no one can claim to fully know. All we know about the black market is that market forces reign supreme down there.
While no one, not even the mighty government, can fully understand it, it’s still worthwhile to invest in understanding it. That way, the government can support it through informed policies and laws.
That’s because for as much as it’s not sexy, not really in keeping with the dream of becoming a middle-income economy, the black market is here to stay. So, the government better try to understand it.
The Economic Census is a comprehensive survey of business establishments in Zimbabwe. It is to be conducted every five years by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT). The objectives of the Economic Census are to:
- Provide comprehensive baseline statistics on the size and structure of the economy.
- Provide valuable insights into the geographical spread of economic activities and business establishments in the country.
- Generate key information for compiling of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- Provide requisite information for the development of a comprehensive Statistical Business Register.
We have never had one and the government intends to carry out the first one starting in 2025.
The 2025 Economic Census will be conducted in all ten provinces of the country, and will collect information from business establishments operating in Zimbabwe except those engaged in the following activities:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing activities.
- Public administration and defence; compulsory social security activities.
- Activities of households as employers.
- Activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies.
As you know, successful censuses come from adequate preparation and public buy-in.
The roadmap for the 2025 Economic Census is as follows:
- Mapping of business enumeration areas scheduled for April 2024–July 2024. This exercise involves identifying locations from which businesses are being operated.
- Listing of all business enterprises, from which details will be collected on such particulars as names and addresses of the business operation, contact details, main economic activities engaged in, among other key information. This exercise will take place in the period August 2024 to November 2024.
- Data collection for small business commencing in January 2025 and running for the whole year until December 2025.
- Data collection for medium and large business enterprises earmarked for April 2026 to September 2026.
- Preliminary results are expected by the end of the first quarter of 2027 and final results by the end of the second quarter of 2027.
A good idea but…
On paper, this all sounds good. What I’m not sure they will get is the buy-in they need for the census to be a success. Informal businesses do not want the government to know that they exist, let alone dig into their operations and figure out that some of them are multimillion-dollar businesses.
This could come with attention as the government is not going to ignore data that says a certain location houses a number of businesses pushing big boy numbers.
That could lead to tax obligations that the informal sector is not too keen to pay, for various reasons. The govt doesn’t usually spend that money as wisely as people would like and we can’t really question them on that.
The question is, if the informal sector tries to avoid the enumerators or lie to them, what can ZIMSTAT do to ensure they still get some meaningful information? I don’t know, but I know they are thinking about this.
Before you judge the informal sector too much, remember it pays its taxes through the IMTT. Yes, I know, formal businesses pay it too but they are being double taxed and the solution to that is not to double tax the informal sector too.
One of the problems we have had with Housing Censuses is that the reports are not released on time. By the time they come out, years would have passed and the situation on the ground would have changed.
On the roadmap above, the government plans to release the report quite early but will we see that happen?
We would hate for the whole exercise to be a waste of time because it will cost us, the taxpayers, millions.
I mean, I was sort of mad that the Economic Census had to be launched at a hotel and some poor kids had to be dragged to the thing. Was it necessary? I don’t think so.
I know they need buy-in and so needed to announce it in an unmistakable way but could that not have been done from ZIMSTAT offices or some other government complex? So, I’m already not too impressed with the money being spent on the census and we haven’t even started. For my sanity I better let it go.